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Communication and Social Media Approaches in Small Businesses

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Communication and Social Media Approaches in Small Businesses

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Small businesses need to keep current and build relationships with target consumers and clients. Today, social media has become increasingly viable for CRM initiatives including new customer acquisition and loyalty programs. Based on the social exchange theory, this study determined the characteristics of small businesses' (N=515) externally communicating and utilizing social media, as well as the discovering the perceptions these businesses have toward utilizing, updating, and monitoring social media sites. Research indicates that 77% of small businesses are using social media, but only 39% update these sites " as needed ". The findings led to several recommendations and questions for further research.
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Communication and Social Media Approaches in Small Businesses
Susan Hall Webb University of West Georgia
Sherry J. Roberts
Middle Tennessee State University
Small businesses need to keep current and build relationships with target consumers and clients. Today,
social media has become increasingly viable for CRM initiatives including new customer acquisition and
loyalty programs. Based on the social exchange theory, this study determined the characteristics of small
businesses’ (N=515) externally communicating and utilizing social media, as well as the discovering the
perceptions these businesses have toward utilizing, updating, and monitoring social media sites. Research
indicates that 77% of small businesses are using social media, but only 39% update these sites “as
needed”. The findings led to several recommendations and questions for further research.
INTRODUCTION
At the heart of our free enterprise system are small businesses. In this day and age, survival of small
businesses can only be attained by understanding and keeping up-to-date with their target consumers and
clients. How businesses reach their external audiences through communication is paramount to building
meaningful relationships that promote increased sales, profits, and market share. Nowadays, reaching
target consumers has become easier through businesses adopting forms of social media; the virtual
relationships that businesses are building allow their clients, customers, and stakeholders to feel
connected,
engaged, and important (Young Entrepreneur Council, 2015). Due to this fact, many clients
and customers
are being transformed from having only passive interactions with businesses to now
becoming active
participants. This active participation is gained through directly interacting and curating
content found on
social media sites of businesses who choose to engage with consumers on this level
(Kadam & Ayarekar,
2014).
Companies, especially small businesses, must pay close attention to how they offer their
products/services so they are competitive and/or unique, easily obtainable, and able to meet the demands
of
society, technology, and day-to-day operations. With rising costs of advertising, social media has
become the number one channel for small businesses to reach clients and consumers. Social media
provides a more cost effective way for small businesses to keep an active presence and build brand
awareness (Benwell, 2014). Bendror (2014) provided a list of benefits of social media:
Increased exposure
Increased traffic
Developed loyal fans
Generated leads
66 Journal of Marketing Development and Competitiveness Vol. 10(1) 2016
Improved search ranking
Grew business partnerships
Reduced marketing expenses
Improved sales
Provided marketplace insight
Social media provides small businesses with endless opportunities to ensure that their brand appeals
to their customers and clients through personalized interactions and customization. Benwell (2014)
suggests that like any other communication, small businesses should ask questions as they begin to
develop social media communication so that they are relevant and engaging. These questions include:
Who am I trying to reach?
What channels are most appropriate to reach these people?
What kind of content will they care about?
How much time do I want to dedicate this?
How can I track success?
Hylbak (2013) provided data from Social Media Today, “21% of small businesses are spending an
hour or more on social media per day, and 58% of small businesses spend at least 10 minutes per day on
social media.” In several cases, as small businesses invest time building their brand on social media, the
reward of gaining new customers becomes a reality. Hylbak goes on to state that “in 2013, 36% of
marketers acquired customers via Twitter, 52% via Facebook, and 43% via LinkedIn.”
The discussion of social media includes sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn,
Google+,
and WordPress. Finding where to have a social media presence is important, but more
important is keeping
a constant presence once the business begins using the site(s). This constant presence
becomes one of the
biggest deterrents for small businesses when beginning to use social media. Geho and
Dangelo (2012) state
that calculating the return on investment (ROI) when looking at the time
commitment required of a
small business to keep an active presence on social media is almost an
impossible task (p. 61). Even
with this deterrent, the use of social media by small businesses is
widespread.
There are 27.6 million small businesses in the United States (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2015).
Small businesses are defined by their industry and other factors such as industry structure, technological
change, competing products from other industries, industry growth trends, and history of activity in the
industry (U.S. Small Business Administration, 2015). They can be privately or publically owned. In the
United States, the U.S. Small Business Administration sets specific standards in order for businesses to
qualify for government support in terms of tax credits, loan programs, and other incentives and are
classified by having fewer than 500 employees as well as financial documents pertaining to sales, assets,
or net profits totaling less than $7.5 million in annual receipts (U.S. Small Business Administration,
2015). For this study, we defined small businesses as companies having between 1 and 200 employees.
We did not self-select by industry, but included all industry categories based on the U.S. Department of
Education’s Career Cluster Framework, which is used by many schools and state agencies (Bureau of
Labor Statistics, 2015). The critical lens of this study is how small businesses’ communicate with external
audiences taking into consideration their usage of social media, how often it is being updated, and
perceptions of connecting with their stakeholders using social media applications.
PURPOSE OF THE STUDY
This study examines how small businesses are communicating externally with their consumers and
clients, using social media to connect to their stakeholders, and updating their social media platforms to
ensure connectivity, sharing/exchange, exposure, and feedback through activities such as blogging, social
networking, social bookmarking, and social recommendations/reviews. Based on the social exchange
Journal of Marketing Development and Competitiveness Vol. 10(1) 2016 67
theory, small businesses need to believe that engaging in social media activities are rewarding and the
cost of updating, investing time and putting forth effort is well worth the sacrifice. This theory based on
Homans’ (1961) original definition of social exchange, which is “the exchange of activity, tangible or
intangible, and more or less rewarding or costly, between at least two parties...behavior is a function of
payoff, whether the payoffs are provided by the nonhuman environment or by other humans.” (Cook,
Cheshire, & Rice, p. 62) Further, Homans’ primary focus was the “social behavior that emerged as a
result of the social process of mutual reinforcement over time…relations could also terminate on the basis
of the failure of reinforcement…” (Cook, et. al., p. 62)
The purpose of this study was designed to determine the characteristics of small businesses’
externally
communicating and utilizing social media with their clients and consumers, as well as the
discovering
the perceptions these businesses have toward utilizing, updating, and monitoring social media
sites. Aligned
with the theory of social exchange, do these small businesses feel their efforts will be
“rewarded”
based on the perceived benefits including positive reputation, increased company sales, and
understanding
how customers/clients feel about the companies’ products/services and/or overall business?
The following research questions guide this study:
RQ 1: How are small businesses communicating with their external audiences?
RQ 2: What different types of social media are being used?
RQ 3: How often are social media sites being updated? Are individuals trained on how to
effectively update, moderate, or curate social media?
RQ 4: How do small businesses perceive incorporating and using social media in their external
communication?
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
Throughout the world, approximately 70% of organizations use social media in some type of format
(KMPG, 2011). Further, KMPG International (2011) reported that firms who use social media as part of
their business operations are most likely to grow faster than companies not using social media (p. 4). As
defined, social media is any type of software-based application that enables individuals to participate in a
virtual community and/or network in order to share or exchange ideas, information, and/or pictures or
videos. The rise in the use of social media as a part of business operations is popular for many reasons
including cost, which in most cases is free or minimal, as well as the wide-spread potential to reach target
audiences.
The use of social media by small businesses is a widely researched topic due to the limitless
opportunities social media provides for businesses to reach their clients and customers and keep them
updated. Businesses must decide which social media sites will best meet their needs in reaching their
target audience.
Selection
A recent study examined the use of social media by businesses and found that 73.3% responded yes
when asked if the business they worked for had a social networking site (Jennings, Blount, Weatherly,
2014). In their findings, they looked at company size and determined that companies with 1 to 50
employees reported the highest percentage (80.6%) having a business social networking site (Jennings et
al., 2014).
Current trends for top social media technologies, regardless of company size, are Facebook and
Twitter (VanBelleghem & Pallini, 2012). In several studies, Facebook was reported as the most widely-
used social media platform (VanBelleghem & Pallini, 2012; Barnes et al., 2013; Jennings et al., 2014);
however, Fortune 500 companies have reported social media accounts on Twitter (77%), Facebook
(70%), and YouTube (69%) (Nanji, 2013). Further, Fortune 500 companies are also found on Google+
(35%), Pinterest (9%), Instagram (9%), and FourSquare (9%) (Nanji, 2013).
68 Journal of Marketing Development and Competitiveness Vol. 10(1) 2016
The selection of which social media applications to use is important, but determining why a particular
online community or networking site might be valuable to a specific business is even more critical. As
previously stated, social media provides several benefits including increased exposure, loyal fans, leads,
rankings, partnerships, sales, and market research (Bendror, 2014). Companies using social media also
benefit from the ability to respond to customer questions or complaints as well as have an opportunity to
listen to conversations between consumers through reviews on particular sites such as Yelp, Epinions,
SiteJabber, Angie’s List, and CNET. According to VanBelleghem & Pallini (2012), 40% of businesses
listen to conversations between consumers on social media, and 69% of businesses indicate responding to
questions or complaints that were sent via social media.
Furthermore, recent research revealed that many consumers feel businesses that utilize social media
tend to stay current with market trends and issues important to consumers and the general public
(Diercksen, R., DiPlacido, M., Harvey, D., & Bosco, S., 2013). This would indicate that employees of
businesses that use social media are more prepared to troubleshoot potential setbacks, more likely to
create good public relations, tailor their own work to incorporate the current trends, and give customers
the impression they are dealing/buying from a company that is concerned about staying current through
their up-to-date activity on social media sites (Schweidel & Moe, 2014).
Maintenance
The only way for small businesses to realize the impact social media may have on their products
and/or services is to be able to gauge activity on the various social media sites. Defining “activity” on
social media sites consists of posts, likes, tweets, re-tweets, updates, pins, videos, photos, advertisements,
and other types of engagement allowing for exchange or sharing in a virtual community or network. It is
important for small businesses to have a protocol in place to maintain and measure their activity on the
social media sites used.
Based on a study of Fortune 500 and Inc. 500 companies, most businesses (58%) do not have
measures in place to determine financial return on investment for their social media efforts (Barnes et al.,
2014). Further, in 2014, only 62% of businesses monitor their brand or company name found on social
media sites (Barnes, et al., 2014). For each social media application used, different analytics are available
for monitoring. For example, Facebook provides the following analytics: page likes, reach, visits,
engagement analytics; reach and engagement on the five most recent posts; and a comparison section
allowing you to watch other Facebook pages in terms of page likes, new page likes, weekly posts, and
weekly engagement (King, 2015). Twitter also has helpful analytics which are comprised of tweets and
followers, broken down by monthly. Twitter reports on individual tweets, replies, retweets, link clicks,
favorites, and engagement rate (King, 2015).
As indicated, activity and engagement rates utilizing various formats of social media are tracked and
analyzed by social media sites and provided to their clients, but what forms of information are being
posted, pinned, tweeted, shared, and updated? According to a world-wide research study of managers
(n=1850), it was reported that companies are using social media for marketing and sales (66%), business
development/research (62%), customer service-feedback, support, complaints (59%), brand and
reputation management (59%), recruitment-employees/alumni (58%), and product/service innovation
(57%) (KPMG International, 2011). In order to determine whether short- and long-term goals set by
businesses are being realized through social media efforts, it is important to consider using social media
analytics to monitor and concretely compare activities and engagement rates of the various sites.
Updating social media, or social media maintenance, is paramount to meeting short- and long-term
goals as well as providing consistency. KPMG International (2011) reported that 60% of businesses
consider “listening to or monitoring online conversations” as well as “responding to conversations about
their organization on social media sites” as critical to the success of using social media (p.6). Considering
this, businesses must determine policies, allocate individuals, and/or set aside time dedicated to
monitoring and updating company information and ideas in order to stay current and informed. A recent
study indicated that 44% of employees surveyed were actually responsible for updating their company’s
social network page (Jennings, et al., 2014). Further, of the 35.9% of respondents indicating their place of
Journal of Marketing Development and Competitiveness Vol. 10(1) 2016 69
employment has a Twitter account, only 20.2% reported making actual Twitter posts for their
organization (Jennings, et al, 2014).
Millions of posts, tweets, updates, videos, photos, and pins are initiated, shared, and monitored on a
daily basis. Although research related to social media is wide-spread, there is a definite need for
additional
research related to selecting social media sites, updating and monitoring of social networks, as
well as
determining the perceptions or “rewards” gained utilizing social media sites in small businesses.
The
purpose of this study was designed to determine the characteristics of small businesses’ externally
communicating and utilizing social media with their clients and consumers, as well as the discovering the
perceptions these businesses have toward utilizing, updating, and monitoring social media sites.
Methods and Procedures
A quantitative, descriptive research design was used to collect data with both close-ended and open-
ended questions. The population (N=515) consisted of individuals listed in a database of small businesses
in the state of Georgia obtained by the Small Business Association (SBA) through their Dynamic Small
Business Search (DSBS). An online survey instrument was developed to help answer the research
questions of this study. Approval for the study was submitted and approved by the Institutional Review
Board (IRB). Collected data was analyzed for frequency and cross tabulation comparisons and
correlations.
Instrument
An online survey was prepared by the researchers and distributed using Qualtrics for easy access to
all the invited participants. The survey consisted of three sections. The first section collected four
generalized questions about the company, including: (1) size of company, (2) age of company, (3)
industry representation, and (4) whether the company currently uses social media. If the company
indicated “no, they did not currently use social media,” they were asked reasons to “why” based on a list
of choices, thanked for their participation, and exempted from continuing with the survey. The second
section collected data based on current external communication and social media, including: (1) methods
of communication most frequently used for external communication (face-to-face, meetings, telephone,
Skype/Google Hangouts/video conferencing, social media, newsletter/e-newsletter, press release, email,
letters, company website, trade journals/magazines, podcasts, television, newspaper, other) and (2) social
media applications utilized by your company (company blog, Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Google+,
YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Craigslist, forums/review sites, podcasts, other). The third section
collected data addressing usage and rationale for using social media, including: (1) how long the company
has been using social media, (2) how often social media sites are updated or monitored, (3) has the
person(s) responsible for social media received training (formal or specialized training), and (4) a series
of six questions related to perceptions of social media based on a five-point Likert scale.
Reliability
The survey instrument was pilot tested through telephone interviews prior to sending out the email
invitations to participants. The telephone interviews were conducted with local small business owners
who agreed to be a part of the test run of the data collection. These results are not included in the final
results. Questions on the survey were corrected for clarity when necessary prior to the final survey link
being sent.
Participants
The population for this study was obtained through the Small Business Association (SBA) website
called the Dynamic Small Business Network (DSBN). The search parameters included the state of
Georgia and no more than 200 employees. The database filtered and limited the number of entries
available; email addresses were the only data collected from the search and produced 11,804 individual
addresses. Initially, 11,804 invitations were sent through email requesting participation in this study. Of
those, there was a bounce rate of 6.5%, which indicated that 11,036 emails were received. Of this number,
70 Journal of Marketing Development and Competitiveness Vol. 10(1) 2016
a total of 515 (N=515) responded to the survey, which is a 4.7% response rate. Once the survey asked
whether the company currently uses any forms of social media, the response rate dropped to 3.5%
(n=397) as the participants who indicated “no” were exempt from continuing to answer questions related
to social media and external communication. According to Bartlett, Kotrlik and Higgins (2001), the
ability to make generalizations based on a population of this size, response rates of 3.5% and 4.6% are
found to be both achievable and sufficient.
Data Collection/Analysis
An online survey was prepared by the researchers and distributed using Qualtrics for easy access to
all the invited participants. Qualtrics is a secure website allowing access to results by only the researchers.
The first email was sent to the entire database in early April 2015. A second email was sent two weeks
later. Those who requested to opt out of receiving the survey were removed from the list of invited
participants.
Data was analyzed through Microsoft Excel and SPSS v.23 statistical software to determine measures
of frequency and cross tabulation comparisons and correlations.
FINDINGS
The findings of the data collected contain valuable information to the communications field and to
small businesses that are using or considering using social media as part of their communication or
marketing strategies.
Based on the generalized questions in the first section of the survey, the participants (N=515) in this
study represent companies ranging in size from less than 10 employees to more than 200 employees. The
majority of the participants represent companies with less than 10 employees (70%, 362). Participants
were also asked to provide information about the age of the company they represent. Fifty-six percent of
the companies have been in business 3 to 10 years (32%, 164) and 11 to 20 years (24%, 126),
respectively.
Only 26 companies indicated they have been in business more than 50 years (5%, 26), and
88 companies
indicated they have been in business less than 3 years (17%, 88). (See Table 1)
TABLE 1
Demographical Data: Age of your company v. size of your company
Age of Company v. Size of Company
<10
11-20
21-49
50-99
100-200
>200
Total
<3 years
84
0
2
0
1
0
88
3 to 10 years
126
25
8
2
2
1
164
11 to 20 years
84
18
14
4
3
3
126
21 to 30 years
26
7
6
5
1
4
49
31 to 40 years
5
3
2
2
1
2
15
41 to 50 years
7
7
3
2
3
4
26
>50 years
30
4
9
2
1
1
47
Total
362
64
44
17
12
16
515
Further, in order to determine the industries represented by our participants, we used the U.S.
Department of Education’s Career Cluster Framework, which is used by many schools and state agencies
(Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). The 16 career clusters in this model include:
Agriculture, food, and natural resources
Architecture and construction
Arts, audio/video technology, and communications
Journal of Marketing Development and Competitiveness Vol. 10(1) 2016 71
Business management and administration
Education and training
Finance
Government and public administration
Health science
Hospitality and tourism
Human services
Information technology
Law, public safety, corrections, and security
Manufacturing
Marketing, sales, and services
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
Transportation, distribution, and logistics
All industries were represented in these findings, which further validates the ability to generalize
based on sample size and response rate (See Table 2). Additionally, 87% of the respondents indicated that
they were the owner/operator/partner (52%, 267) or president/CEO/COO (35%, 179), which also provides
credibility of the responses received.
TABLE 2
Demographical Data: Categories of industries represented
Respondents Percent
Agriculture, food, and natural resources 24 4.7
Architecture and construction 70 13.6
Arts, audio/visual technology, and communications 25 4.9
Business management and administration 41 8.0
Education and training 46 8.9
Finance 15 2.9
Government and public administration 18 3.6
Health science 33 6.5
Hospitality and tourism 17 3.3
Human services 20 3.9
Information technology 37 7.4
Law, public safety, corrections, and security 11 2.1
Manufacturing 37 7.4
Marketing, sales, and services 60 11.7
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics 37 7.4
Transportation, distribution, and logistics 19 3.7
Total 515 100
Finally, we asked whether the small business used any forms of social media. The responses were
overwhelmingly positive with 77% (n=397). The 23% (n=118) of respondents who indicated their
companies do not use social media were then asked, “Is your company considering adopting any forms of
social media in the future” and, of the respondents, 81% indicated either “no” (41%, 48) or not sure (40%,
47). If they indicated “not sure,” they were directed to a final question that asked, “If not sure, please
select the reasons below.” The possible choices included:
Selecting effective social media sites (11%, 5)
72 Journal of Marketing Development and Competitiveness Vol. 10(1) 2016
Frequency of updating or monitoring social media sites (30%, 14)
Determining who should update and/or monitor sites (15%, 7)
How much social media will cost the company (i.e. sites and/or resources) (19%, 9)
Unsure if company will benefit from social media (81%, 38)
Concerned about training on how to use and implement social media (6%, 3)
Other (allowed an open-ended response) (6%, 3)
As for the companies who indicated they were using social media, they were asked, “How long has
your company been using any forms of social media?” The majority of respondents (48%, 190) indicated
they have been using social media between 1 to 3 years, and 26% (104) indicated they have been using
social media for 4 to 6 years. Only 13% (51) indicated they have been using social media for less than a
year; in contrast, only 6% (22) indicated they have been using social media for over 10 years.
Research Question 1: How are small businesses communicating with their external audiences?
Participants were asked, “For external communication, which of the following communication
methods
are used most frequently (select up to 5 choices)?” Fifteen choices were given that included: (1)
face-to-
face (in person), (2) business meetings, (3) telephone, (4) Skype/Google Hangouts/video
conference, (5)
social media (i.e. Facebook, Linked In, YouTube, Twitter, etc.), (6) newsletter/e-
newsletter, (7) press
releases, (8) email, (9) letters, (10) trade journals/magazines, (11) company website,
(12) television, (13) newspaper, (14) podcasts, and (15) other (allowed an open-ended response). Of the
fifteen choices, the top five choices that were most commonly selected were: email (89%, 339), telephone
(75%, 287), face-to-face (64%, 244), company website (57%, 219), and business meetings (52%, 198).
The “other” responses included: trade conferences/shows, text, Facetime, fax, Google Docs, and
webinars.
(See Table 3)
TABLE 3
Question: For external communication, which of the following communication methods are used
most frequently (select up to 5 choices)?
Respondents
Percent
Face-to-face (in person)
244
64
Business meetings
198
52
Telephone
287
75
Skype/Google Hangouts/video conference
102
27
Social Media (i.e. Facebook, Linked In, YouTube, Twitter, etc.)
175
46
Newsletter/e-newsletter
66
17
Press releases
52
14
Email
339
89
Letters
94
25
Trade journals/magazines
31
8
Company website
219
57
Television
7
2
Newspaper
13
3
Podcasts
10
3
Other
14
4
Journal of Marketing Development and Competitiveness Vol. 10(1) 2016 73
Research Question 2: What different types of social media are being used?
Participants were asked, “Select all of the social media applications utilized by your company (you
can select as many choices as applicable).” Twelve choices were given that included: (1) company blog
(i.e. WordPress), (2) Facebook, (3) Twitter, (4) Linked In, (5) Google+, (6) YouTube, (7) Instagram, (8)
Pinterest, (9) Craigslist, (10) forums/review sites (i.e. Yelp), (11) podcasts, and (12) other (please
specify). Of the twelve choices, the top three choices that were most commonly selected were: Linked In
(79%, 295), Facebook (74%, 277), and Twitter (45%, 167). The “other” responses included: eBay,
Angie’s List, Tumblr, Nixie, Basecamp, Solve360, and Office 365 Team Site. (See Table 4)
TABLE 4
Question: Select all of the social media applications utilized by your company (you can select as
many choices as applicable).
Respondents
Percent
Company blog (i.e. WordPress)
107
39
Facebook
277
74
Twitter
167
45
Linked In
295
79
Google+
138
37
YouTube
106
28
Instagram
40
11
Pinterest
42
11
Craigslist
45
12
Forums/review sites (i.e. Yelp)
31
8
Podcasts
18
5
Other
17
5
Research Question 3: How often are social media sites being updated? Are individuals trained on
how to effectively update or moderate social media?
This research question has a two-prong approach. We were determining how often social media sites
are being maintained while understanding whether individuals updating the sites have any training (either
formal or specialized) on how to effectively update, moderate, or curate social media. The first question
asks, On average, how often are your social media sites updated and/or monitored?” The choices
included: as needed (39%, 147), once a day (7.9%, 30), more than once a day (8.7%, 33), once a week
(12.6%, 48), more than once a week (7.9%, 30), monthly (11.6%, 44), quarterly (6.3%, 24), annually
(2.4%, 9), and other (3.9%, 15). Some of the “other” comments included: maybe twice a year, when
special events occur, or that social media is being used inboundnot outbound. There were 17 missing
responses (n=380). (See Table 5)
The second question asks, “Are individuals at your company trained (formally or through specialized
training) to effectively update or moderate social media content?” Based on either “yes” or “no” as
selection options, 72% (274) indicated no” while 28% (106) indicated “yes”. From there, the final
question asked, “If yes, please indicate the types of training (you can indicate more than one answer).”
The choices included: degree program at a college or university (16.8%, 18), in-person workshops or
seminars (62.6%, 67) online workshops or webinars (42%, 45), company-sponsored
workshops/seminars/courses (28.9%, 31), and other (4.6%, 5).
74 Journal of Marketing Development and Competitiveness Vol. 10(1) 2016
TABLE 5
Question: How often are your social media sites being updated and/or monitored?
Respondents
Percent
As needed
147
38.7
Once a day
30
7.9
More than once a day
33
8.7
Once a week
48
12.6
More than once a week
30
7.9
Monthly
44
11.6
Quarterly
24
6.3
Annually
9
2.4
Other
15
3.9
Total
380
100
Research Question 4: How do small businesses perceive incorporating and using social media in
their external communication?
The final research question states: How do small businesses perceive incorporating and using social
media in their external communication? In order to determine how small businesses perceive social
media, we asked a series of six questions based on a Likert-scale (1 strongly disagree, 2 disagree, 3
neither agree or disagree, 4 agree, 5 strongly agree). The specific questions asked included:
Do you feel social media…
1.
is beneficial to my company’s reputation?
2.
can help to increase my company’s sales/business?
3.
is a great resource to see what clients and customers feel
about
my
company/products/services?
4.
is a reliable (credible) news outlet through posts and tweets?
5.
is overwhelming due to choices available?
6.
is overwhelming due to amount of time needed to update and monitor site(s)?
Once analyzed, it was determined that the mean of the responses were “agree” for Question 1
(M=4.05) and Question 2 (M=4.04). The next two questions fell into the neither agree or disagree
category with Question 3 at the high end with a mean of 3.83 and Question 4 in the middle with a mean of
3.47. The final two questions were worded negatively to see how companies would respond. Question 5
(…is overwhelming due to choices available) was at the low end of “disagree” with 3.22, and Question 6
(…is overwhelming due to amount of time needed to update and monitor sites) was in the middle of the
scale at 3.39. There were 13 missing responses (n=367). (See Table 6)
Journal of Marketing Development and Competitiveness Vol. 10(1) 2016 75
TABLE 6
Question: Do you feel social media…
Strongly Disagree Neither Agree Agree Strongly Mean
Disagree or Disagree Agree
…is beneficial to my
company’s reputation?
9
6
63
169
120
4.05
…can help to increase
my company’s sales &
business?
8
11
72
145
131
4.04
…is a great resource to
see what clients and
customers feel about my
company/products/services?
10
29
76
149
103
3.83
…is a reliable (credible)
news outlet through posts
and tweets?
15
36
134
125
57
3.47
…is overwhelming due
to choices available?
28
66
113
118
42
3.22
…is overwhelming due
to amount of time needed
to update and/or monitor sites?
26
52
96
138
55
3.39
DISCUSSION
Based on the findings, there are several key points that add to the literature related to how small
businesses’ externally communicate, select, update, and perceive social media.
Communication Approaches
When considering how small businesses are communicating with their clients and stakeholders
(RQ1), the top five channels of communication included: email (89%), telephone (75%), face-to-face
(64%), company website (57%), and business meetings (52%). Other channels of communication such as
social media (46%) and letters (25%) were not highly represented. As indicated in the introduction, small
businesses that increase their time building their brands on social media gain new customers36% of
marketers acquired customers via Twitter, 52% via Facebook, and 43% via LinkedIn (Hylbak, 2013).
Based on the data collected about social media selection (RQ2), those particular sources were the three
most utilized sitesLinked In (79%), Facebook (74%), and Twitter (45%). As a result, in addition to the
traditional channels of communication that ranked high in this study, small businesses should definitely
consider investing resources (human, time and capital) to have a strong, active social media presence not
only for customer acquisition and individual sales, but to focus on long-term customer engagement and
customer loyalty as part of their on-going customer relationship marketing (CRM) initiatives.
Further, the data reinforces the need for small businesses to consider hiring employees that show
strong writing and organizing skills so they may effectively create meaningful content for both emails and
76 Journal of Marketing Development and Competitiveness Vol. 10(1) 2016
company websites. Plus, small businesses need to hire employees that have strong skills in oral
communication so they can carry out responsibilities professionally, ethically, and consistently when
dealing with individuals in face-to-face meetings and/or verbal interactions through the telephone.
Social Media Presence
Updating, monitoring, and curating social media is the only way to maintain a strong, active social
media presence. Based on the data collected about updating social media sites (RQ3), 38.7% (n=147) of
small businesses update their social “as needed” and not on a particular schedule. In order for a business
to have an active social media presence, they should update, monitor, and curate on a consistent basis
(Kotenko, 2013). If small business only set up social media accounts, but do not actively post, tweet, chat,
pin, connect, and advertise, the return on investment (ROI) from social media will not be realized (Geho,
2012). According to Kotenko (2013), there are peak times of the day to reach targeted audiences using
social media platforms including: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Google+. If small
businesses cannot communicate during these peak hours due to their schedules or other responsibilities,
they could adopt a social media management dashboard in which specific posts, tweets, chats, or pins
could be automatically scheduled during these peak times on social media platforms of their choice. Some
highly recommended dashboards include Cyfe (http://www.cyfe.com), Hootsuite (http://www.hoot
suite.com), Sendible (http://www.sendible.com), or SproutSocial (http://www.sproutsocial.com) (Lohana,
2015). These social media management dashboards “sync” all social media sites into one convenient
place. Additionally, these dashboards provide a host of benefits including productivity, tracking,
scheduling, analytics, and collaboration (Lohana, 2015).
Another important finding (RQ3) recognized that the individuals responsible for updating,
monitoring, and curating social media have not received formal or specialized training (72%, 274);
whereas, only 28% (106) have received training with the majority of training coming from in-person
workshops or seminars (62.6%, 67). It is highly recommended that small businesses find opportunities for
the individuals responsible for social media to attend classes or training workshops, either in-person or
online, to get the skills needed to maintain a strong social media presence. Training programs,
specializing
in (1) how to use social networks, (2) how to write updates and posts, (3) how to write blog
posts, (4) how
to manage social media marketing campaigns, how to organize your social media
marketing team, (5)
how to schedule blog and social media posts, or (6) how to maintain a consistent
brand, can be found
through private companies (i.e. Social Media Hat), community education (i.e. local
colleges and/or
universities), or non-profit organizations (i.e. Small Business Development Centers).
Additionally,
there are several free resources on how to maintain social media sites from sites such as
Social Media
Examiner (http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com).
Social Media Perceptions
Of the small businesses using social media to communicate with their clients and customers, the
findings of this study suggest that they “agree” that social media is beneficial to their company’s
reputation (M=4.05, SD=.89) and help increase their company’s sales and business (M=4.04, SD=.93).
This reinforces the theory of social exchange that frames this study. The theory indicates that small
businesses need to believe that engaging in social media activities are rewarding and provide a benefit to
the human or nonhuman environment (Cook, et. al., p. 62). Reinforcing this theory, the data collected
about social media perceptions (RQ4) indicates that small businesses are not sure (neither agree or
disagree) whether social media “is a great resource to see what clients and customers feel about their
company/products/services (M=3.83, SD=1.01),” “is a reliable (credible) news outlet through posts and
tweets (M=3.47, SD=1.00),” “is overwhelming due to choices available (M=3.22, SD=1.10),” and “is
overwhelming due to amount of time needed to update and/or monitor sites (M=3.29, SD=1.12).”
Perhaps, if these small businesses had more evidence to the potential results (rewards or benefits) of these
aspects of social media, they may be more apt to adopt social media into their external communication. It
is recommended these businesses obtain additional evidence by trial-and-error through actually (a)
selecting social media sites appealing to them, (b) taking the time to update and maintain these sites, as
Journal of Marketing Development and Competitiveness Vol. 10(1) 2016 77
well as (c) posting reliable and credible stories on their own social media. They could also review other
companies (small- or large- businesses) to confirm the reliability and credibility of the news and/or posts
they find, which may help solidify their perceptions about social media as a whole.
CONCLUSION
For small businesses, the implications of this study can help guide external communication and social
media approaches toward reflection and growth. The recommendations provided will assist these
companies by helping to increase their company’s image (reputation), sales, and CRM efforts by
considering how they communicate with their stakeholders. Through realizing the benefits of their
selected channels of communication, especially adopting or utilizing social media as a viable medium,
continual rewards such as acquiring new customers and developing lasting long-term relationships
promoting customer loyalty can be attained.
There are some limitations to this study that would help to clarify the perceptions small businesses
have towards social media. For example, this study could have been framed using the social media
integration (SMI) model (2011), which would have focused on the reasons “why” companies use social
media. According to the SMI model, the objectives for social media include exposure (i.e. blogging),
feedback (i.e. social recommendations/reviews), connecting (i.e. social networking), and sharing (i.e.
social bookmarking) (Garcia, 2011). It would be interesting to discover the rationale behind using
Facebook or Twitter over other sites such as Linked In or Google+.
In this study, generational data was not collected. The study would have been enriched by including a
variable describing the generational makeup of each company such as Baby Boomers (ages 55-70),
Generation X (ages 34-54), Generation Y (ages 21 to 33), Generation Z (ages <20), or a combination of
varying age groups within one company. By collecting this data, it could be determined whether there is a
difference if a millennial or baby boomer is the one working with social media or if there is a connection
between the age of the business, the age of the owner of the business, or the age of the personnel in
charge of social media. This data may provide an insight to the generational status of the person who is
responsible for the updating, monitoring, and curating the company’s social media presence and if there
are differences as a result.
These suggestions for future studies will add to the abundant literature on social media; however,
addressing communication and social media approaches related to selection, presence, and perceptions in
small businesses is unique. Studies addressing these concerns will be well-received due to the beneficial,
meaningful, and supportive information specifically designed to help these thriving business entities grow
and evolve.
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Journal of Marketing Development and Competitiveness Vol. 10(1) 2016
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Traditional marketing methods can no longer sustain a business. Businesses have been aware for the past few years that social connectivity was becoming the key to marketing. However, the time, effort, usefulness and ability to measure outcomes made using social media for marketing impracticable. With the advent of analytics and other sophisticated measurement tools, entrepreneurs are finding that they can now not only take advantage of social media as a marketing tool but use data to optimize their social media marketing campaigns. This study was conducted to examine trends in social media marketing and the resources available to entrepreneurs to jump start their marketing strategy by incorporating social media.
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In this research, the authors jointly model the sentiment expressed in social media posts and the venue format to which it was posted as two interrelated processes in an effort to provide a measure of underlying brand sentiment. Using social media data from firms in two distinct industries, they allow the content of the post and the underlying sentiment toward the brand to affect both processes. The results show that the inferences marketing researchers obtain from monitoring social media are dependent on where they "listen" and that common approaches that either focus on a single social media venue or ignore differences across venues in aggregated data can lead to misleading brand sentiment metrics. The authors validate the approach by comparing their model-based measure of brand sentiment with performance measures obtained from external data sets (stock prices for both brands and an offline brand-tracking study for one brand). They find that their measure of sentiment serves as a leading indicator of the changes observed in these external data sources and outperforms other social media metrics currently used.
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The determination of sample size is a common task for many organizational researchers. Inappropriate, inadequate, or excessive sample sizes continue to influence the quality and accuracy of research. The procedures for determining sample size for continuous and categorical variables using Cochran's (1977) formulas are described. A discussion and illustration of sample size formulas, including the formula for adjusting the sample size for smaller populations, is included
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